In the first grade, J. Cameron Prowse, Q.C. told his teacher he wanted to be a lawyer. Today he has practiced law for more than 40 years. For Cameron, his partners, and the support staff at Prowse Chowne LLP, law is not just a job. It’s a calling.
The firm’s roots go deep. Cameron’s grandfather was admitted to the bar in the early 1900s and began practicing law in Taber, Alberta. Cameron’s father studied law at the University of Alberta and founded what became Prowse Chowne LLP on June 1, 1959. Ron Chowne became a partner on April 15, 1977. Cameron joined the firm in 1977.
“We pride ourselves on providing the advice you need and the results you deserve,” says Cameron. “We work hard to develop long-term relationships with our clients and try to become more than their lawyers; we wish to be their trusted advisors. Our clients call us for advice about more than just legal matters. They call to take advantage of the very significant experience here. We have lawyers that have practiced for more than 40 years.”
Their significant experience covers a very broad range of practices, including business and commercial litigation, expropriations, patents and trademarks, employment law, alternate dispute resolution, and much more.
Cameron explains, “We offer a variety of services because there is quite a synergy that develops among the different disciplines. One of the things that has always concerned me is when you see someone that is an expert in only one area. There is an old saying about ‘knowing more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing.’ In this world of specialization its easy to miss things because you are so focused on a speciality. You miss an opportunity to gain some advantage. We have tried to keep the number of services broad, so we don’t become too narrow.”
Prowse Chowne LLP is proud of its six decade history, but that doesn’t mean the firm can’t move with the times. In fact, embracing change is one of the many reasons the firm remains so dynamic and agile.
“The most recent area of practice we added is intellectual property, which we started four years ago,” notes Cameron. “We decided to add this because we saw a number of synergies with our other business clients. Instead of sending them somewhere else, we wanted to be able to help them in house. With this we have developed a solid expertise in this area. We greatly enjoy working with people that just made their discovery or created their technology to help them reach their maximum potential.”
It’s not just areas of practice in which Prowse Chowne LLP is progressive. In 2006 the firm moved from its southside location, where it had been since 1959. The move downtown opened up new opportunities and changed the perception others had of the firm.
“People believed that downtown lawyers were somehow better. It’s not true, but that was the perception,” laughs Cameron.
The firm had grown steadily and required a new home, and downtown fit the bill. The move, however, was not just about a good location. For Cameron and his partners, it was also about ensuring a welcoming environment for every client, regardless of their company size or details of their case. To that end the firm worked with designers to ensure a professional and polished, but not opulent and intimidating environment.
“When I talk to other lawyers about the transactions and deals we do here, they are surprised about the magnitude of the deals we have done. Potential clients are sometimes surprised at the complexity of the transactions we have completed and are capable of doing: corporate reorganizations, sales and acquisitions that are well into nine figures. People are surprised that at our size we have the ability to do transactions like that. However, while we also work for large or multinational corporations, a lot of the people we help are mom-and-pop operations and local small businesses. Those are the people that are intimidated by a huge office or grand surrounding with lots of marble and glass and so on. I’ve been in some other offices and they are beautifully done, but I feel our clients would be intimidated and that is not what we are looking for here.”
For Prowse Chowne LLP, providing the service clients want and need comes down to moving with the changes in the industry and offering services in a welcoming environment to companies of all sizes and individuals from all walks of life. It’s equally important to build a team that can serve those needs.
“People are impressed with the diversity of the firm in terms of culture and gender,” Cameron points out, “but when they say that it surprises me a bit. We never set out to be diverse but to simply hire the best people we could find. As a result, we organically became diverse.”
He and his partners enjoy working with, and building, the team.
“It’s very rewarding that the core group has been together for so very long. I also find it rewarding that we are able to bring new people in, see that they fit right in and that they enjoy each others company. We have developed a culture where our professional staff socialize and care about each other.
“On the personal side I also find it rewarding that my eldest son and daughter both work here and that they achieved that on their own merit, not because their last name is Prowse.”
Every year the firm takes the staff on a retreat to help build the corporate culture.
“That is one of the things that helps to build the sense of team we have. Nobody is afraid to go into anyone’s office to get advice or ask questions. We don’t have silos where people practice on their own. We encourage people to ask questions. It’s rewarding to see that happen on a daily basis. It improves the quality of advice we give to our clients as well because we have the input of several people for each client.”
That advice always comes with a personal touch. Cameron explains that the size of a deal does not matter; what the deal feels like to those involved matters the most. For example, a business that someone spent a lifetime building is difficult to part with. He says, “The advice they need is not always ‘just sign this document.’ Sometimes the advice clients need goes way beyond that. What does tomorrow look like? That is the touch we add for our clients – helping them with what tomorrow looks like.”
If Cameron and his team could say one thing to the people of Edmonton it would be this:
“Please talk to us before you sign anything. Sometimes someone comes in with a signed deal saying, ‘Can you help me?’ When it comes to contracts, some of the things listed may not be in your best interest and the other party may not be open to negotiating after the fact.”
The Prowse Chowne LLP website features a blog with even more advice.
“The more that people understand about the law, the better equipped they will be to know when they need advice,” explains Cameron of why they maintain the blog. “The law is very complex. If you don’t know you are about to step in the glue, you don’t know you should be talking to someone about how to avoid that. If you don’t know you have a particular legal right or entitlement, you may miss an opportunity for yourself. If we can help educate people about that, we can help them recognize an opportunity or avoid a problem.”
It is also very important for Prowse Chowne LLP to give back to the community. Ron Chowne has sat on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity, James Song is on the board of Edmonton International Fringe Festival and the company supports a number of local community initiatives.
The firm is proud to have four partners with a Queens Counsel (Q.C.) designation, and thanks the partners, staff, clients, and their families for their years of support. Cameron also thanks his father, John C. Prowse, Q.C., the man who set the wheels of Prowse Chowne in motion.
“All lawyers are not the same,” concludes Cameron. “I think there are two main categories of lawyers. There are deal makers and deal breakers. We pride ourselves on being deal makers and problem solvers. We find ways to help people do things. We don’t say it can’t be done. We come up with innovative and creative solutions to solve problems. Litigation is good for lawyers but solving problems is better for clients. For us, the best thing to do is find the solution for the problem.”
As for this year’s big anniversary, “Sixty years,” smiles Cameron. “There are not a lot of firms that get anywhere close to 60 years. Not only have we made it to 60, the future is looking very bright! We have some wonderful people that we were fortunate to hire, and everyone’s commitment to the firm is strong. We are on our way to another 60 years.”